Buddha statue quiet lake
Recognizing & Transforming Afflicted Emotions: 1. Overview
Listen to this talk:
Bobbie Perkins - Recognizing & Transforming Afflicted Emotions: 1. Overview (22 min.)
Transcript of a talk delivered by Bobbie Perkins
October 2, 2016 - Dallas, Texas

Perhaps you wondered as I did when I was starting to think about this: "What are afflicted emotions and where do they come from?" My own experience tells me that afflicted emotions are basically those emotions that trigger actions that can cause pain or discord or suffering of some kind or another to ourselves and to others. An afflicted emotion can turn into a pathology, actually, so they're really quite serious and toxic. And they come from a place called our store consciousness.

So I want to show you a picture of what a store consciousness in this teaching looks like. And so I'm going to draw a picture on the board, here. Store consciousness in Buddhist teachings is like a big… you can imagine, so… hmm… So, store consciousness is down here. And up here is mind consciousness. In store consciousness are all these seeds—like, probably hundreds of thousands of them, maybe billions of them, who knows… But anyway, there are all these seeds in the store consciousness.

And these seeds are accumulation from centuries, from our ancestors, all of our ancestors: our root ancestors, our land ancestors, our spiritual ancestors… They accumulate. They're from our family, our biological family, from the culture that we grew up in. There's just, like I said, hundreds of thousands of these seeds in our store consciousness. They represent what—I don't know, in quantum theory, you know, it could be like a field of potentiality. It's like there's all this potential in our store consciousness. And because it covers the gamut, there are wholesome seeds in here, there are seeds that can produce beautiful manifestations. And there are unwholesome seeds as well, because the store consciousness holds all of it. And so, whatever we give our attention to, whatever—and in Thay, our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh says, whatever we water—is what is going to manifest.

So let's say that this little seed right here is anger. That is an afflicted emotion, anger. It's unwholesome. It causes pain and suffering. So if something happens in your life and you get angry about it, then you start watering that little seed. And if you continue to water it and give it nourishment, then it will manifest into some kind of chaos, some kind of pain, some kind of suffering. At the same time, there are also all these other seeds, like there is a seed of understanding. And if something happens—and this is just a little kind of example, but—if something happens that creates within you a feeling of anger and you can kind of sense that you're about to be really angry, if you then turn your attention to trying to understand what's going on, so that you're looking more now at understanding the situation than getting angry about it, then you're watering this seed [of understanding]. And if you continue to water it, then this seed [of anger] will not manifest so strongly.

So this is where all of those emotions dwell, in the store consciousness, and some of them are toxic, and some of them are wholesome. Some of them are the things that we would want to water the seeds of. So this is where afflicted emotions come from. They come from this store consciousness.

Now, we generally categorize afflicted emotions into three groups. There are those that we label attachment—or sometimes you'll see the words clinging or craving. So that's one of the categories, and I want you to be thinking about what emotions might live in that category, clinging and craving. I'll just tell you one, and that is greed. People who cannot seem to be satisfied, ever, are greedy and just always craving something, always wanting something else. So that's one example of the seed, or the category, called attachment, or clinging and craving. Another category is the category of aversion, or pushing things away, or trying to repel things. Hatred is a part of that category. So aversion, hatred, repulsion, those are all that category. And the third category is indifference. It's also sometimes called ignorance, not in the sense of somebody being dumb or stupid, but ignorant of the facts, or ignorant of the totality of a situation—in other words, having a perspective that's too narrow and too biased, so ignorant in that sense. Delusion is also sometimes a name for that category—indifference or delusion.

So those are the three categories of afflicted emotions, and those are the ones that we'll cover more extensively during the weeks in October. So I hope you'll, you know, come back and hear more about those and learn more about those categories. I'm just giving you a quick overview so you'll know what to expect for the rest of the month.

Fortunately, there are remedies for all of these afflicted emotions, and that is what we want to know about in order to transform them. So the remedy for attachment, or clinging and craving, is actually generosity, or being content with the way things are. Let me see if I can find… I like this little quote. Nobody really knows where it came from, but it's a Zen saying and it goes like this: "If you understand, things are just as they are. And if you don't understand, things are still just as they are." So if we can be content with things just as they are, then we stand a better chance of being able to look at it in a way that helps us to see how to transform the situation. So the remedy, or the antidote, for attachment is generosity, contentment, being okay with things as they are. And it might remind you—I don't know if any of you were here a couple of Sundays ago when I talked about the acronym RAIN? Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture. So this could very well go along with that practice as well. So you recognize the situation as it is, accept it as it is, and then investigate what you can do to make things better. So that goes right along, I think, with the antidote for clinging and craving.

The antidote for aversion, or hatred, is loving-kindness and compassion. And those two things arise out of understanding. A metta meditation, using a loving-kindness meditation in situations that have caused you to move into this place of wanting to just push it away, deny it, forget it, leave it, whatever—if you can practice a loving-kindness meditation around that situation, or the people that are involved in the situation, you'll find (I think, because this has been my experience) that the whole situation softens. It changes. And your—my—perspective of the whole situation shifted in a way that allowed me to make changes in my own perspective and notice that that had a beneficial effect on the experience and the perception of the other person. So loving-kindness and compassion are the antidotes for aversion.

The antidotes for indifference or ignorance are wisdom, insight, and (again) understanding. If there is a situation that we're sort of indifferent to, then we can try to understand more about it so that we begin to gain an insight that would allow us to then move past indifference to some place of understanding, some place of insight and wisdom.

We need the support of our sangha to be able to work through these kinds of situations. We need the support and the way we practice together. It's one of the reasons that we come as frequently as we do; it's one of the reasons that we find it's almost always easier to meditate when we're with our friends in sangha than when we try to do it on our own. And certainly it's easier to learn about and to practice these kinds of teachings when we're doing it with others and not trying to kind of move through the process on our own. The very fact of acknowledging one of these afflicted emotions within oneself can be frightening. It can be kind of scary to recognize, "Oh my goodness, I have a real hatred for this person or this group of people." And knowing how to move past that, if you're ready to and if you're willing to, can be very difficult doing it on your own. And so when we come together, it's a time to allow the practice to assist you, to support you as you try to move beyond and transform those afflicted emotions.

I want to share with you a, what I thought was a very interesting, another acronym. So I'll write this on the board. It has to do, it goes along with this store consciousness, mind consciousness, so… It goes with the letters P…A…C…K.

The P stands for Prevent unwholesome seeds from arising. Now, how do you do that? Well, I think I gave a pretty good example before. If you notice an unwholesome seed, if you notice an afflicted emotion kind of welling up inside you, you can choose not to water it. So that is what we mean by preventing it from arising. You don't feed it. This reminds me of that story, I think it's a Cherokee story. The grandfather is talking to his grandson, and he says to his grandson, "There are two wolves inside you. And they're always vying for control." And the little boy said, "Well, which one wins?" And the grandfather said, "The one you feed." So it's the same here. The unwholesome seed that we feed, that we water, is the one that's going to manifest. So the P stands for PREVENT the unwholesome seeds from manifesting. Don't water them. Choose thoughts, choose events, choose friends, choose ways of being that water the wholesome seeds. This reminds me of one of the five mindfulness trainings, which is all about taking care what we consume. Taking care that we don't consume toxins of any kind: toxic television, toxic movies, toxic articles, toxic friends… So that's how we prevent these unwholesome seeds from manifesting.

The A stands for Ask the unwholesome seeds that have manifested, ask them to return to store consciousness. So in our meditation, you could say to yourself, you could request that the feeling of anger diminish inside you, go back into the store consciousness. So you ask for that to occur.

The C stands for Cultivate wholesome seeds. That means kind of what I said earlier. Nourish the things that bring happiness, that bring joy, gratitude, like we started our evening expressing gratitude for something. So nourish the wholesome seeds and notice all of the wonderful things that are already available to you.

And then the last one, the K, stands for Keep the wholesome seeds in your mind as long as you can so that they gain strength. If we keep the unwholesome seeds in our mind for long periods of time, they gain strength, and then it's even more difficult to dismantle them or transform them. So we want to keep those positive wholesome thoughts and seeds and feelings in us as long as we can so they strengthen, so they get stronger moment by moment.

I want to just back up a little bit and maybe say, Where do these, all of these things in the store consciousness… They're all available to us, and they show up in our mind consciousness often as thoughts. I Googled the other day, how many thoughts do people think in a day? and turns out there's no scientific evidence of anything. But there's a lot of speculation that it's around sixty to seventy thousand thoughts in a day. Well, who knows? But anyway, all of those thoughts have a little spark attached to them, and some of those thoughts will generate a feeling. Some of them won't, but some of them will generate a feeling, and when a feeling gets sparked, or generated, it has a spark, or it has a… condition, let's say. So it will either be a pleasant feeling or it'll be an unpleasant feeling or it'll be a neutral feeling. And these feelings, then, can then move into an emotional state. If it's a pleasant feeling, like, we're happy about something, you can see how that could lead to clinging and craving, wanting to keep, hang onto that happy place, hang onto that joyful state. So pleasant feelings lead to pleasant emotions and can lead to attachment or clinging. Unpleasant feelings generate unpleasant emotions, which makes sense, and can lead to that place of wanting to push it away, deny it, reject it, so then we're in that place of aversion. Neutral feelings can lead to that emotion, or that state, of indifference, not caring one way or the other.

So our thoughts, feelings, and emotions are all tied to what happens, what manifests. And that is why we meditate. That is why we practice mindfulness practices, so that we begin to pay more attention to those thoughts as they become feelings and emotions, and then we are in a position to be able to transform them before they become destructive, before they bring suffering to us and to other people. It's all very logical and not exactly easy to do. It sounds pretty simple, but it isn't always easy to do, which again, in my view, is why we need one another. We need one another to be able to talk about these things honestly and to get the support that we need to do transformation that we'd like to bring about in our lives.

Transcribed by Meghan Horton

▲ Return to Top